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The Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the leading advocate of emancipation, translated the Hebrew Bible into German. He wanted Jews to have a better knowledge of their religion, learn the language of the society they lived in and become familiar with "enlightened" ideas.

This portrait of Mendelssohn was dedicated to King Frederick William II of Prussia in 1787 by the Jewish "Free School" in Berlin. The school, founded in 1778, offered free education to the poor. It was the first to teach religious as well as general subjects.